A room full of ideas

As some of you might already know, I entered a contest this fall.

I didn’t win the contest. I didn’t even make it to the finals.

So why would I spend the next 750 words writing about a contest that I didn’t win?

Because it’s not actually me, or any of the other contestants, who winds up winning in a contest like this, it’s the entire Town of Port Hawkesbury that wins, and quite possibly the entire Strait area.

Let me set the scene for you: This past spring, the Eastern Strait Regional Enterprise Network (ESREN) approached the town with an idea.

The concept: Offer an unused town-owned space to an aspiring entrepreneur for two years without charging rent. Partner with the InRich Business Development Centre (BDC) to give that entrepreneur a business loan of up to $20,000. Join forces with other local businesses to give that start-up operator everything from free legal services to promotional Web design, and throw in a one-year membership to the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce.

The town came on board, and that’s how Start-Up Port Hawkesbury came to be.

I became aware of the initiative when I was still a full-time journalist working for this newspaper. As I neared the end of that period, I started to wonder if it was worth putting together a pitch for the contest and seeing if I could garner support for my own business concept.

And it was.

You see, it’s been a decade since I’ve been a full-time self-employed business person. The landscape has changed. The basic concept of an elevator pitch – that is, a business proposal that can be spit out in the entirety of a single trip on an elevator (regardless of the number of floors) – has taken on so many more layers and dimensions in the digital age.

As a result, I appreciated the opportunity to work on these types of pitches with others considering a crack at Start-Up Port Hawkesbury. And I simply enjoyed the reality that the workshops held as part of the competition were putting ordinary people with ideas in the same room for the first time in many months – and possibly the first time ever.

Somehow, I reached the second stage of the competition, and that’s how I came to be in the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre’s Shannon Studio with six other Start Up entrants. We had two minutes each to make our case to a panel of Port Hawkesbury business owners, who would then quiz us on our business plans, our cash-flow statements, and our general outlook for the following three minutes. (Two other contestants weren’t available that night and made their case through pre-recorded video pitches.)

I don’t think there was a weak idea in the entire bunch. As a matter of fact, if even one of these people pushes forward with their business idea, Port Hawkesbury is immediately going to become a better place. If everybody in the second round takes a crack at it, we’re going to become a town that earns province-wide – and perhaps even nation-wide – attention.

Some of the contestants were in their twenties. A couple of us were over the age of 45. A few were already running their own businesses and wanted to expand. Some spoke eloquently; others seemed nervous about defending their plans in public. They all had two very important things in common: an idea that had the potential to make the town better, and a desire to do their business in Port Hawkesbury as opposed to taking it somewhere else.

As I said at the outset, I didn’t advance to the final round. But I still feel it was worth my while to take a crack at it, and in doing so, I may have launched a much-needed conversation about developing, promoting and valuing Port Hawkesbury’s musical and cultural community.

At any rate, this isn’t about me. This is about the fact that, on the last Thursday night in October, we had a room full of ideas.

We had ideas for families, ideas for branding and marketing, ideas for healthy living, ideas for tourism, ideas for entertainment – even ideas for dogs.

Through it all, we had ideas for improving our town and expanding its business community. And none of them involved waiting for the next big mega-project to arrive or hoping some level of government would suddenly throw millions of dollars at a piece of infrastructure.

Start-Up Port Hawkesbury will officially pick a winner from the three finalists in late November. But as far as I’m concerned, the town has already won, and I’m glad I could play even a small part in this victory.